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About the brain and spine

The brain and spine are vital to keep the body alive and functioning.  Everything we do depends on the messages (nerve impulses) that are sent from the brain, along the spinal cord and on to the rest of the body.

The brainThe brain

The brain is a complex organ that is enclosed inside the skull.  It controls everything that happens in the body, including vital functions like breathing and heartbeat.  Without the brain, the body would not be able to function.

The brain is very delicate and is well protected by the skull.  It is surrounded by a fluid called cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF). The main functions of CSF are to protect the brain (it acts as a shock absorber), to carry nutrients to the brain and remove waste from it.

Find out more about the different parts of the brain.

The central nervous system

The brain is connected to the rest of the body via the spine.  Together, the brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system.

Messages (nerve impulses) from the brain travel along the spinal cord and control the activities of the body, such as the movement of the arms and legs, sensory functions like touch and temperature, and things we don't think about that go on in the background, like the function of the organs.

The spineThe spine

The spine is made up of the backbone and the spinal cord. The backbone is made of vertebrae (spinal bones). Some of the muscles in the back form part of the structure of the spine, to hold it all together.

The spinal cord extends from the brain to the lumbar section of the spine. The backbone continues beyond the lumbar section to the coccyx (tail bone).

Like the brain, the spinal cord is surrounded and protected by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The dura mater (dura) is the tough, fibrous membrane which forms the outer covering of the brain and spinal cord and keeps the CSF in place.

Different sections of the spinal cord are responsible for different movements and functions of the body.

Find out more about the different parts of the spine

Human nerve cellThe peripheral nervous system

Nerves branch out from the spinal cord through the dura and vertebrae and become part of the peripheral nervous system.

The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves outside the central nervous system. It carries messages between the central nervous system and the rest of the body.